Opting out of the corporate food chain

Posted: June 22, 2009 in society
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food incThis looks like a good book to read: Food, Inc., available now from PublicAffairs and Amazon. The following excerpt is part of one of the  contributions to the book, titled “Declare Your Independence” by Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm fame.

Perhaps the most empowering concept in any paradigm-challenging movement is simply opting out. The opt-out strategy can humble the mightiest forces because it declares to one and all, “You do not control me.”

The time has come for people who are ready to challenge the paradigm of factory-produced food and to return to a more natural, wholesome and sustainable way of eating (and living) to make that declaration to the powers that be, in business and government, that established the existing system and continue to prop it up. It’s time to opt out and simply start eating better — right here, right now.

Impractical? Idealistic? Utopian? Not really. As I’ll explain, it’s actually the most realistic and effective approach to transforming a system that is slowly but surely killing us.

What happened to food?

First, why am I taking a position that many well-intentioned people might consider alarmist or extreme? Let me explain.

At the risk of stating the obvious, the unprecedented variety of bar-coded packages in today’s supermarket really does not mean that our generation enjoys better food options than our predecessors. These packages, by and large, having passed through the food-inspection fraternity, the industrial food fraternity and the lethargic cheap-food-purchasing consumer fraternity, represent an incredibly narrow choice.

If you took away everything with an ingredient foreign to our 3 trillion intestinal microflora, the shelves would be bare indeed. (I’m talking here about the incredible variety of microorganisms that live in our digestive tracts and perform an array of useful functions, including training our immune systems and producing vitamins K and biotin.) In fact, if you just eliminated every product that would have been unavailable in 1900, almost everything would be gone, including staples that had been chemically fertilized, sprayed with pesticides or ripened with gas.

Rather than representing newfound abundance, these packages wending their way to store shelves after spending a month in the belly of Chinese merchant marine vessels are actually the meager offerings of a tyrannical food system.

Strong words? Try buying real milk — as in raw. See if you can find meat processed in the clean open air under sterilizing sunshine. Look for pot pies made with local produce and meat. How about good old unpasteurized apple cider? Fresh cheese? Unpasteurized almonds? All these staples that our great-grandparents relished and grew healthy on have been banished from today’s supermarkets.

They’ve been replaced by an array of pseudo-foods that did not exist a mere century ago. The food additives, preservatives, colorings, emulsifiers, corn syrups and unpronounceable ingredients listed on the colorful packages bespeak a centralized control mind-set that actually reduces the options available to fill Americans’ dinner plates.

Whether by intentional design or benign ignorance, the result has been the same — the criminalization and/or demonization of heritage foods. The mind-set behind this radical transformation of American eating habits expresses itself in at least a couple of ways.

One is the completely absurd argument that without industrial food, the world would starve. “How can you feed the world?” is the most common question people ask me when they tour Polyface Farm.

Actually, when you consider the fact that millions of people, including many vast cities, were fed and sustained using traditional farming methods until just a few decades ago, the answer is obvious. America has traded 75 million buffalo, which required no tillage, petroleum or chemicals, for a mere 42 million head of cattle. Even with all the current chemical inputs, our production is a shadow of what it was 500 years ago. Clearly, if we returned to herbivorous principles five centuries old, we could double our meat supply. The potential for similar increases exists for other food items.

The second argument is about food safety. “How can we be sure that food produced on local farms without centralized inspection and processing is really safe to eat?”

Here, too, the facts are opposite to what many people assume. The notion that indigenous food is unsafe simply has no scientific backing. Milk-borne pathogens, for example, became a significant health problem only during a narrow time period between 1900 and 1930, before refrigeration but after unprecedented urban expansion. Breweries needed to be located near metropolitan centers, and adjacent dairies fed herbivore-unfriendly brewery waste to cows. The combination created real problems that do not exist in grass-based dairies practicing good sanitation under refrigeration conditions.

Lest you think the pressure to maintain the industrialized food system is all really about food safety, consider that all the natural-food items I listed above can be given away, and the donors are considered pillars of community benevolence. But as soon as money changes hands, all these wonderful choices become “hazardous substances,” guaranteed to send our neighbors to the hospital with food poisoning.

Maybe it’s not human health but corporate profits that are really being protected.

Via AlterNet

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